[31 October 2005]
The sheer volume of cult non-fiction that has sprung up in response to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons is astounding. In addition, three books already exist speculating as to the plot and merits of Brown’s next book, the proposed Code sequel, The Solomon Key, which is yet to receive a publication date.
David A. Shugarts’s Secret’s of the Widow’s Son: The Mysteries Surrounding the Sequel to The Da Vinci Code opens with an introduction by Dan Burstein, who is considered something of an authority on Brown having written the New York Times bestseller, Secrets of the Code. The hyperbolic manner in which he introduces Secrets sets the scene, in many ways, for this exploration in conjecture. The intro promises the book to be “a journey into the fertile jungle of myth and mystery, art and archetype, heretics and hieroglyphics, and legend and lore that is the world of Dan Brown”. Burstein even goes so far as to assure readers Shugarts’s books will arm them with a greater ability to participate in conversations about philosophical subjects. Quite a claim.
In his own opening, Shugarts introduces both his interest in The Da Vinci Code and himself as primarily a technical writer with experience in aviation journalism. Despite the book’s failings (which we’ll get to), his enthusiasm for history and philosophy is clear. In chapters rich with historical research, Shugarts takes the reader through numerous eras, buildings, organizations, and individual lives. He hypothesizes that Washington D.C. will be The Solomon Key‘s setting because its architecture contains many secrets and the city’s history is deeply interwoven with that of the Freemasons.
The remainder of the book sees Shugarts building on his idea that Brown will write about D.C. Together with the reader—the pronouns “us” and “we” are frequently used—he maps out both a virtual temple, which consists of his hypothetical cast of characters; and a physical temple, the book’s setting. He provides an in-depth and informative history of Washington D.C.‘s design, complete with helpful appendices to explain Symbolic Systems, the Sinclair Family, and Death and Resurrection. In his discussions of D.C., he provides an informative recounting of the foundations of Mormonism, and sees fit to dispel many of the city’s myths, including that famous cherry tree story.
This is hardly hard-nosed scientific non-fiction. And Shugarts’s first person narrative style can be unbalancing for readers after just that. On the plus side, Shugarts’s confidential tone serves to give the book personality, allowing the reader to feel as though he or she has been let in on some juicy bit of little known gossip. Indeed, some of the facts about famous characters are quite surprising. For example, how many of us knew that Sir Francis Bacon could have secretly been the head of early Freemasons? Or that George W. Bush is a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon, Skull and Bones, and Bohemian Club? Nonetheless, the style becomes tiresome, especially when the author addresses the reader directly or uses hip slang.
The book’s greatest weakness, however, is its presentation. Shugarts has compiled copious amounts of research yet fails to deliver his findings in a logical or memorable fashion. He’s often repetitive, sometimes for clarity; at other times, though, he presents certain findings as original only to have noted the very same thing only pages previously. The reader is left to wonder how deftly the piece was edited, and, indeed, if the author composed the book with a thesis in mind. As it stands, the book reads like a hodge-podge of ideas without a cohesive narrative.
The book’s other great failing comes in how little it enlightens the reader on the topic at hand—Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel. Shugarts’s build-up to seemingly important information is often more interesting than the information itself. It’s also near impossible to decipher just where Shugarts gets the idea that particular historical persons or sets of symbols will factor into The Solomon Key.
Secrets of the Widow’s Son is for Brown die-hards. The casual Code reader will be hard pressed to find anything of worth in Shugarts’s scraps of information. This review in itself needs a code to figure out—a review of a book that’s a preview of a book that doesn’t yet exist? Does that even make sense? At any rate, I’m no closer to understanding The Solomon Key, but I do now possess a lot of Freemason factoids. I’ll never look at my local mason lodge the same way again.